The shoot-em-up, or shmup if you prefer, has become such an established genre that it’s always a genuine surprise when a developer brings a new twist to the formula.
Space Cycler certainly gives it its best shot, with a unique circular movement system and same-screen co-op to boot.
It leads to some fun, chaotic moments as you blast through enemies together, but lengthy missions and uncomfortable controls will quickly lead to frustration.
Space Cycler is a classic shmup in many regards – you automatically move forward, shooting down waves of enemies and picking up powerups so you can achieve the highest score possible.
Powerups include basic attack boosts, additional ships on your wings, and a screen-filling special move that, once charged, unleashes hell on everything you can see.
The main twist is that, instead of being fixed facing one direction, your ship instead moves in a circular motion, spinning around the screen to take out enemies.
You move via a slider on the bottom which controls acceleration to the left or right, and you only fire when you have your finger on the slider, so rapid movement is never really an issue.
The controls do take some getting used to – you’ll regularly find yourself forgetting which way is left and which is right, and that can cause a few untimely deaths early on.
But it’s the finger cramp that really gets in the way. Where other shmups have taken to slowing down time if you take your finger off the screen, Space Cycler offers no such respite.
This is especially disruptive in harder levels, as you’ll either have to fight through the pain to get yourself to safety, or just accept that you’re going to die and give your weary finger a break.
One of the big draws is co-op, which sees two players taking up positions on either side of the screen, and moving their ships around on the same circle.
It leads to chaotic moments where you’ll be bumping into your friend to shove them out of the way to pick up a powerup, or where you’ll accidentally push them straight into enemy fire.
But it still suffers from the same discomfort, and highlights one of the key issues – levels are simply too long to be enjoyable, and require more patience than two people should realistically ever face together.
Ultimately, Space Cycler isn’t a bad game – it provides a unique take on the shmup, and features enough enemies, powerups, and explosions to be fun in short bursts.
But its levels are just a bit too long, and the controls are uncomfortable to play with for the time it takes to finish a stage.
Co-op is a good laugh for a short time, but eventually it all becomes a bit of a slog. Shorter play times would make this an easy recommendation, but as it stands, it could do with some refining.